After four days and 22 races, Act 4 of the Extreme Sailing Series in Saint Petersburg presented by Land Rover came down to an edge-of-the-seat final race shoot out, with five teams gunning for the podium and no room for error.
The game of Russian roulette between The Wave, Muscat and Alinghi continued until the final double pointer, but the Omani team needed seven boats between them to overhaul the Swiss - which proved too tall an order for Leigh McMillan, and Alinghi comfortably took their third Act win of the season.
With the Series now at the halfway mark, helmsman Morgan Larson has already turned his attentions towards the bigger picture, "It's nice to put a little stamp on our win and to let the guys know that we're here to try and win the whole Series this time. The team is working well together and we finally feel confident that we can do it. Saying that, the heat is on, some teams are working really hard and we know that we'll have to step up if we want to stay head."
Hoping the Omani team would trip up and waiting in the wings to pounce for second place was Emirates Team New Zealand - and they almost did - until a last minute roll of the dice by Leigh McMillan and the team paid off, and a fifth place in the final race was enough for the boat flying the colours of Oman to take second place. But more importantly, keeping them in touch with Alinghi on the overall season leaderboard.
Tactician Sarah Ayton talked through the strategy, "When you are in that position you need to do something and we needed to attack. We took the split at the gate, we saw the opportunity, took it and it came good for us. You make a choice, you either follow or you make an attack and do something slightly different. We're happy and pleased with the result. It's been a tough regatta, but the standard of the fleet is really creeping up and the Emirates Team New Zealand boys did really well and obviously Alinghi were fantastic. The game is definitely raising."
Emirates Team New Zealand welcomed world-class tactician Ray Davies to the team in Saint Petersburg, and the pairing of Davies with skipper Peter Burling at the back of the boat, quickly gelled. The Kiwi crew finished the day in style, winning the last race, consolidating their position both in Saint Petersburg and on the overall Series leaderboard, where the team are currently third. Burling commented, "We had an up and down day so it's kind of mixed emotions, we're really happy to come away with another podium for the team, and for me to get another podium under my belt. We feel like we're really improving the whole time, but not really being able to show that out on the racetrack was a little bit frustrating, but we were obviously really happy to come away with a win in that last race."
Six short, sharp races were sailed on the final day, and by close of play the teams were jostling in the best conditions of the week, with 10 knots of breeze and 15 knot gusts, that swept over the top of the surrounding buildings on the Palace Embankment. The starts were vital as the teams moved through the gears - get it right and reap the benefits; pull the trigger too early and get punished hard, as J.P. Morgan BAR found out in the final race. The team came hurtling into the line - skimming the committee boat and giving race management a fright en route - and were given a restart penalty, which saw their podium ambitions dashed. But the British team, led by Olympic legend Sir Ben Ainslie, was happy to settle for fourth, their best result of the season to date. "It's certainly a better result than the previous events, and we're improving which is great. I think we're slowly starting to understand a bit more about this type of racing, the demands and how to be successful."
Looking ahead to the next Act and the UK round of the Series, Ainslie continued, "It will be great to sail on British waters. It's not often I get to do that and get that opportunity so I'm really excited about that."
Host Venue Partners in Saint Petersburg SAP will be pleased with their teams performance - not only winning the SAP Speed King Challenge clocking up a top speed of 21.6 knots - but with a sixth place enough to elevate the Danish entry from ninth to seventh on the overall Series leaderboard. After a strong start to the week, that saw Realteam in a podium position for the first two days, the Swiss team struggled under the bigger breeze, a final hour string of top three results wasn't quite enough for the team to reach the podium, finishing the event in fifth place.
The scores on the second half of the leaderboard are even tighter, with the home entry Gazprom Team Russia leading the way in seventh place, just one point ahead of Oman Air, with Red Bull Sailing Team one point back in ninth. GAC Pindar saved their best for last, with their greatest result of the Act in the final double pointer in second place, to finish the Act in tenth, tied on points with Groupama sailing team. By his own admission Franck Cammas and the team on Groupama sailing team under performed in Russia, but the French finished strong, with two third places.
Extreme Sailing Series™ Act 4, Saint Petersburg presented by Land Rover standings after Day 4, 22 races (29.06.14)
Position / Team / Points
1. Alinghi (SUI) Morgan Larson, Stuart Pollard, Pierre-Yves Jorand, Nils Frei, Yves Detrey 160 points.
2. The Wave, Muscat (OMA) Leigh McMillan, Sarah Ayton, Pete Greenhalgh, Kinley Fowler, Nasser Al Mashari 148 points.
3. Emirates Team New Zealand (NZL) Peter Burling, Ray Davies, Blair Tuke, Jeremy Lomas, Edwin Delaat 146 points.
4. J.P. Morgan BAR (GBR) Ben Ainslie, Nick Hutton, Paul Goodison, Phil Sparks, Matt Cornwell 120 points.
5th Realteam by Realstone (SUI) Jérôme Clerc, Arnaud Psarofaghis, Denis Girardet, Bryan Mettraux, Thierry Wassem 117 points.
6. SAP Extreme Sailing Team (DEN) Jes Gram-Hansen, Rasmus Køstner, Thierry Douillard, Peter Wibroe, Nicolai Sehested 113 points.
7. Gazprom Team Russia (RUS) Igor Lisovenko, Paul Campbell-James, Matt Adams, Pete Cumming, Aleksey Kulakov 97 points.
8. Oman Air (OMA) Rob Greenhalgh, Tom Johnson, Kyle Langford, Hashim Al Rashdi, Musab Al Hadi 96 points.
9. Red Bull Sailing Team (AUT) Roman Hagara, Hans-Peter Steinacher, Mark Bulkeley, Nick Blackman, Stewart Dodson 95 points.
10. GAC Pindar (AUS) Nathan Wilmot, Troy Tindill, Ed Smyth, Seve Jarvin, James Wierzbowski 88 points.
11. Groupama sailing team (FRA) Franck Cammas, Romain Motteau, Tanguy Cariou, Thierry Fouchier, Devan Le Bihan 88 points.
12. RussianFirst (RUS) Georgy Shayduko, Sergey Dzhienbaev, Pavel Kalinchev, Leonid Kazinets, Pavel Karachov 40 points.
Extreme Sailing Series 2014 overall standings
Position / Team / Points
1. Alinghi (SUI) 38 points.
2. The Wave, Muscat (OMA) 35 points.
3. Emirates Team New Zealand (NZL) 32 points.
4. Realteam by Realstone (SUI) 28 points.
5. Gazprom Team Russia (RUS) 19 points.
6. J.P. Morgan BAR (GBR) 17 points.
7. SAP Extreme Sailing Team (DEN) 14 points.
8. Red Bull Sailing Team (AUT) 13 points.
9. Groupama sailing team (FRA) 13 points.
10. Oman Air (OMA) 11 points.
11. GAC Pindar (AUS) 4 points